Blog Post

Beware of Personality and Temperament Assessment Tests

KP writes:  "I was wondering what the difference was between enneagrams (which I know are bad) and other personality tests vs. temperament tests. I often see books like 'The Temperament God Gave You' etc in orthodox catalogs, such as Ignatius Press and Leaflet Missal Company. Do these not both still focus on the self rather than God or is the temperament test designed to help one focus on their weaknesses in terms of attachment to sin and how to overcome this, perhaps?"

Excellent question, KP!

In a nutshell, I would be careful with all kinds of assessment testing, be they for personality or temperament. As you'll read below, personality tests are largely unregulated and are not as scientific as more people believe.

Temperaments, on the other hand, are derived from ancient beliefs that people's personalities come from four humors believed to be associated with a predominance of one or another body fluid. These four types are sanguine, melancholic, choleric, and phlegmatic. Science has since come to support these temperaments and they are widely used in spiritual direction.

Personality testing is a whole different story. An excellent book on the subject was written by Annie Murphy Paul entitled The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests are Leading us to Miseducate our Children, Mismanage our Companies and Misunderstand Ourselves. Paul is a journalist whose expertise was in covering mental health and psychology for several mainstream publications. Writing for a general audience, she documents the sometimes dubious history of the most widely known tests, from the Rorschach inkblot test to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, listing their uses and misuses.

For instance, numerous investigations have found that many Rohrschach test results are not supported by evidence, yet it continues to be used in nearly a third of emotional injury assessments and in almost half of child custody evaluations.

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was actually created in a Midwestern mental hospital and designed by the patients. Although it was originally intended just for the mentally ill, it is now being used on everyone from paramedics to clergy members and is administered on an estimated 1.5 million Americans a year.

The most popular of all, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, was created in the 1940's by a Pennsylvania housewife who thought it could bring about world peace. (I'm not making this up.)  The test is administered by 89 of Fortune 100 companies today even though as many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again. Perhaps this is because the sixteen so-called "types" described by Myers-Briggs have no scientific basis.

At the end of the book, Paul concludes that personality and temperament tests are "overly reductionistic" and neglect to account for the context, situation and environment in which an individual lives and works. In other words, people are too complicated to be pigeon-holed into narrow, one-dimensional labels.

Scott E. Provost, M.M., M.S.W., who reviewed the book for Psychiatric Services, said Paul's findings should sound an alarm for anyone who administers personality tests, interprets the results and, most importantly, who are subjected to the tests.

"Most, if not all, ordinary individuals who are subjected to personality tests either as a condition of employment or as mandated by court order are powerless to protect themselves from the damage of being condemned to a one-dimensional label. Despite the evidence that many personality tests lack reliability and validity, they are unlikely to disappear from use in corporations, courts, schools, and other institutions in the near future. The take-home point, therefore, is caveat emptor (buyer beware)."

The Enneagram should also be avoided. As the Church document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, warns about the Enneagram, “. . . when used as a means of spiritual growth, introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.” (Sec. 1.4)

For those of you who are not aware, the Enneagram was developed by several occultists. One of these men, Oscar Ichazo, claims he began having out-of-body experiences at the age of six. According to New Age expert and former Enneagram enthusiast, Father Mitch Pacwa, Ichazo “could not accept Catholic teaching on heaven or hell because he had been there and knew more about it than Christ and the Church.”

Ichazo was involved in Oriental martial arts, Zen, Andes Indian thought, shamanism, yoga, hypnotism and psychology and claims to have received instructions from a higher entity called “Metatron, the prince of the archangels.” He and his followers claim to contact lower spirits through meditation and mantras, and to be guided by an internal master, known as the Green Qu’Tub, who makes himself known when they reach a sufficiently high stage of development. (You can't make this stuff up.)

This is not to suggest by any means that personality and temperament tests are all occult-based, but this field is definitely popular with New Agers who thrive on self-realization. If only as much time was spent meditating on the attributes of God rather than on ourselves!

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the best way to pursue the kind of self-knowledge that will get you into heaven. That, coupled with 30 minutes a day of mental prayer (start with 10 minutes and work your way up) is the best way to discover one's weaknesses and attachments to sin - not through personality or temperament tests.

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